Director – Larry A. McLean, Screenplay – Kim Beyer-Johnson & Joan Considine Johnson, Inspired by the Novel The Vanishings by Tim LaHaye & Jerry B. Jenkins, Producers – Karl Horstmann, Dave Alan Johnson, Randy LaHaye & Dale Weller, Photography – Pete Wages, Music – B.J. Davis, John Debney & Andy Grush, Themes – John Debney, Visual Effects Supervisor – Monda Ray, Visual Effects – Triple Horse Digital, Special Effects Supervisor – Trey Gordon, Production Design – Steven Legler. Production Company – Echolight Studios/Faith Capital Group/Salt Entertainment Group/Tim LaHaye Productions/Jenkins Entertainment/VMI Worldwide/Triple Horse Studios
Amber Frank (Gabby Harlow), Mason Dye (Josh Jackson), Dylan Sprayberry (Flynn), Tom Everett Scott (Damon), Keely Wilson (Claire Harlow), Brigid Brannagh (Sarah), Jackson Hurst (Eric Harlow), Randy LaHaye (Nicolae Carpathia), William Gabriel Grier (Pastor Bruce Barnes), Rachel Hendrix (Rachel)
In Chicago, teenager Gabby Harlow is walking in the street when various people, including her mother, abruptly vanish, leaving behind only their empty clothes. This has happened all around the world and society quickly starts to collapse into anarchy. Gabby sets out through the chaos to find her father, along with her younger sister Claire, her neighbour Josh, and Flynn, another guy who joins them on the way. A pastor tells them that The Rapture has occurred and all true believers have been taken up to Heaven. They arrive at a commune led by Damon where they are granted refuge because Claire is injured. Gabby discovers that her father is being held prisoner there. Their attempt to rescue him ends with then hunted by Damon
The Left Behind series was the creation of Christian minister Tim LaHaye and sports biography writer Jerry B. Jenkins. The series began with Left Behind (1995) and extended to fifteen follow-up novels between then and 2007. All of the books concern the Biblical Rapture and those left behind in the aftermath as they try to deal with the rise of the Antichrist Nicolae Carpathia – see Biblical End Times Prophecies. The books have sold a reported 65 million copies and ended up on the bestseller lists.
These successes led to inevitable film interest with Left Behind (2000) made by Toronto’s Lalonde Brothers starring Kirk Cameron, followed by two sequels Left Behind II: Tribulation Force (2002) and Left Behind: World at War (2005) and legal fighting between LaHaye, Jenkins and the Lalondes. One of the Lalondes then revived the series with the big-budget Left Behind (2014) starring Nicolas Cage, which was clearly an effort to mount it as a new franchise, only for the film to flounder amid bad box-office and terrible reviews.
Left Behind – Vanished: Next Generation is the Left Behind series having been retooled for Young Adult audiences. The genesis of this was Left Behind: The Kids, a series of spinoff novels that LaHaye and Jenkins wrote for younger audiences, which consists of forty books, all featuring teenagers as the central characters as they face the Biblical Apocalypse. Vanished: Next Generation is loosely based on the first of these, The Vanishings (1998), even though it throws out all the characters and most of the plot of the book. The film version was produced by La Haye’s grandson Randy LaHaye, who previously had a handful of credits as an actor.
As a non-believer and someone opposed to many of the beliefs and politics of evangelical Christianity, I admit my bias against a film like Left Behind – Vanished: Next Generation upfront. (Even further, the name of Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania senator and 2016 Republican Presidential candidate, known for his vile anti-gay, anti-abortion views, who is listed as an Executive Producer on the credits, is guaranteed to make one’s blood boil). That aside and taking as neutral and non-judgemental a position as possible and looking at Vanished: Next Generation in purely critical terms, I have to say in all honesty that it is not a very good film.
It has been pitched to the Young Adult demographic and is peopled by actors who have been chosen for their good looks first and their acting talent second. The major problem with the film is not even anything to do with it as a work of evangelical propaganda but that it is simply not very interesting. It is shot with a professionalism but looks B-budget. This is particularly in its unimaginative horizons. The film concerns the Biblical Rapture but the most exciting it ever gets is Tom Everett Scott chasing the group into a barn and his being despatched not in a fight but by accidentally falling through the floor.
Furthermore, the film supposedly concerns itself with The Rapture where the entirety of society falls apart after a few people vanish (leading one to question just how many people it is that have been taken up – according to The Book of Revelation, the number is supposed to only 144,000). In the aftermath, the kids head off in search of Amber Frank’s father and come across an authoritarian commune run by Tom Everett Scott where her father and others are being held prisoner.
One of the bugbears of the film is that it never deigns to explain why they are being held prisoner or why Tom Everett Scott holds the place with such a fierce grip on power – he’s just like a generic dictator. Unfortunately, to anyone who has watched any of the numerous social collapse/post-holocaust stories and films that have come out since John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (1951), the rise of the commune that runs along the principles of a dictatorship in the aftermath of social collapse is one of the most overused there is.
Even more annoyingly, the film seems to be heading in the direction of a depiction of the collapse of society. However, as soon as the group have escaped the commune, we learn that civilised order has been magically restored and they return home as though nothing had happened. The film goes out with the rise of the smoothly sinister Nicolae Carpathia who we know from the other Left Behind films is really the Anti-Christ. In a bizarre piece of possibly unintentional symbolism, this is played by none other than Randy LaHaye.